Headed into their Oct. 23 match against Sherbrooke, McGill men’s rugby needed a win and four tries to secure their spot on top of the RSEQ rankings. The Redbirds (5–1) succeeded, scoring six tries in total and defeating the Sherbrooke Vert et Or (0–6) by a score of 36-3 to become the RSEQ regular-season champions.
Among the top scorers were fullback Benjamin Russell, who tallied 10 points, and Samuel Elrington and Gaspard Poiré, who both scored a try. Quebec natives Ian McDowell and Thomas Richards scored the other majors.
The Vert et Or brought intensity to the pitch despite their 0–5 record and one-man disadvantage, making the Redbirds work to keep up. Head coach Ian Baillie, who is in his eighth season at McGill, commended the Vert et Or’s effort in a post-game interview with The McGill Tribune.
“To [Sherbrooke’s] credit, they came out and put it to us straight away,” Baillie said. “They didn’t allow us to get into our structure, they caused disruption, we couldn’t get any flow in our game going and couldn’t hold possession of the ball really well, and it was because of the pressure they were putting on us.”
The first half started out slow, with a scoring drought of over 20 minutes before William Couture of Sherbrooke broke the ice with a successful penalty kick. The game’s energy abated in the next minutes, with repetitive back-and-forth kicks over the centre line from both teams. Nearing halftime, however, the Redbirds scored two consecutive tries in five minutes, with scrum-half Owen Cumming picking up a conversion.
The second half saw a renewed Redbirds squad, quicker at getting the ball out of scrums and moving it up the field, much to Sherbrooke’s chagrin.
“We got our legs under us in the second half,” Baillie said. “Having a bench to pull guys onto the park that were fresh […] made a big difference and it got us moving forward.”
Once the momentum shifted to McGill’s side, the team pushed forward incessantly, keeping possession of the ball through physical rucks and sustaining their offensive pressure until the very last moment.
There were few penalties issued during the match, but the clock stopped two minutes early after a Sherbrooke player was knocked out cold and required medical attention.
Despite the game ending on a sour note, the team’s thrill at winning the title could be felt from the stands. Fourth-year winger Hùng Lorin was pleased with their overall performance, but noted a few things the team could improve upon heading into the post-season.
“We’ve got to watch our hands and focus more on getting the ball straight and running harder lines,” Lorin said in a post-game interview with the Tribune. “We dropped it a couple of times, but the boys all did really great.”
Matthew Zeitouni, third-year flanker, agreed with his teammate’s assessment.
“[We’ve] just got to reduce those handling errors and stick to what we know best,” Zeitouni said. “We wanted to finish first so that our next game, the semifinal, is on home ground, so we’re quite happy.”
Brad Hunger, first-year second row, emphasized that the team’s harmony played a major role in getting them this far.
“This is my first year playing rugby with the guys, and I already love each and every one of them like a brother, so, it’s awesome,” Hunger said.
Next Saturday’s sudden-death match against Bishop’s University (3–3) will determine whether or not the Redbirds can make a run at the playoff title. If all goes as planned, the team looks forward to hosting the RSEQ final on home turf and capping the post-season with a championship.
“I’m just happy we were able to pull through with a strong win and finish on top of the league for the season. It’s been a couple of years since we won the RSEQ, so this is definitely a confidence booster. I’m proud of all our guys for the work they’ve put in over the last two months and now’s the time to cash it all in during playoffs.” —Karl Hunger, team captain and second-row.
MOMENT OF THE GAME
In the thick of the first half, third-year center Theo Bride made a try-saving tackle just before the goal line, giving McGill the spark they needed to find their footing in the game.
Scrum-half Owen Cumming made a 2-point conversion, adding to his season tally of a whopping 36 points to solidify his spot as the Redbirds’ leading scorer.